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Concordia, other colleges getting rid of land lines

MOORHEAD --  -- An unplugged land line phone sits high on a shelf in Sam Swanberg's Concordia College dorm room.

Next door in Brown Hall, Sarah Kjorlien said she and her roommates have used their conventional phone maybe twice all semester.

"I think they mostly just sit around and collect dust," said Kjorlien, who uses e-mail or her cell phone to contact her family every other day.

Concordia is joining a growing number of campuses that are ditching land line phones in residence halls as a majority of students come to campus with cell phones.

James Meier, Concordia's dean of students, said the college spends about $200,000 a year providing phone service to students who live on campus.

Yet in a 2008 survey, just 5 percent of Concordia students said they use their land line phones daily and 9 percent used them several times a week. Forty-three percent said they never use the phones.

"That was one of the frustrations, to be paying that much money for a telephone system that so few students were using," Meier said.

Concordia will be switching to a Voice Over Internet Protocol system, or VoIP, that will be in place before next fall.

With that system, students can make calls using their computers, a headset and the software Skype, which they can download for free, said Bruce Vieweg, Concordia's chief information officer.

Students are already used to this technology, with Skype set up in several computer labs and residence halls on campus, Vieweg said.

The new system will require some investment up front, but it will save the college money in the long run, he said.

In North Dakota, Valley City State University and Jamestown College are making similar changes.

Valley City State plans to replace land line phones with the VoIP technology in January. About five of the 300 on-campus students use conventional phones for long-distance calls, said spokesman Doug Anderson.

North Dakota State University and Minnesota State University Moorhead continue to have land line phones in their residence halls, but the use is on the decline.

At NDSU, resident assistants surveyed rooms over Thanksgiving break to see how many students have phones plugged in, said Rian Nostrum, director of residence life.

In 2006, 48 percent of residence hall rooms had a phone plugged in. In 2008, the last time NDSU surveyed, it was down to 15 percent.

The percent of students who actually use the phones may be even lower, Nostrum said.

Neither NDSU nor MSUM officials plan to eliminate the conventional phone lines in the near future.

"It's something we do plan to explore, but at this point we haven't made a decision to disconnect that service," said Heather Phillips, MSUM's director of housing and residential life.

Unlike Concordia, which contracts with Qwest for phone service, NDSU and MSUM have their own telecommunications systems.

At Concordia, an old-fashioned practice is coming back along with the new technology.

Meier said they plan to have an analog phone on each floor of the residence halls so students can dial 911 in case of an emergency.

Students say they won't miss the old phones.

"I think it's a good idea," Kjorlien said. "I don't think anyone really uses them."